Some media reports have forecasted hundreds of thousands will March against Monsanto corporation on May 23rd in over 400 cities around the world. We went into Richmond to join the fun.
The march started with the background information as to how it got started 3 years ago. The inspiration was the US congress passing the despicable Monsanto Protection Act, which was basically written by Monsanto to make things better for them.
The most horrific parts of the 2013 Monsanto Protection Act are that even if it is found that GMOs have adverse health effects on consumers, companies using them 1) can not be sued, 2) can not be stopped from harvesting them and 3) cannot be blocked from planting more and selling more of them.
Little could be more revealing of how sold out our elected leaders are.
The perhaps 100 marchers went through the fashionable Carytown portion of Richmond with a substantial police escort. The response from the many people who saw us was pretty warm, especially the staff at the many restaurants on that trendy street.
As for the tactics of the MAM i have strong split feelings (the technically correct definition of ambivalent). I love the decentralized approach to the organization of these events. People come, bring signs, and a megaphone. There is a fairly informal rotation of speakers at most of these, anyone who is inspired can grab a megaphone and address the crowd. While I did not speak this year, but i did in 2013 in Washington DC
This type of decentralize approach is important, because it is at its very base populist. Also it proves that the internet can be a highly effective organizing tool (not requiring strong (read authoritarian) leaders) with global reach and the capacity to facilitate multi-city/multi-country mass actions.
The problem with the lovely grass rootsie approach is that these decentralized groups do a third rate job with media. There was some media at the Richmond event, and there might even be a bit of press coverage. But overall, this movement is pretending that it is possible reach millions without a media budget, without media handlers and without carefully crafted messages sending.
While i appreciated the considerable decentralized effort, i remember working with the experienced media folks at Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Greenpeace US. They speak at a high level about when a story has to be out by, what images make sense to broadcast, what are the talking points, what is the group demanding.
With hundreds of protests around the world, there are but dozens of articles up (mostly in small papers or on local tv stations). I can’t help but think if one of the better big green groups were to take on this cause, we would have much larger media echo.
I spend more time driving these days than i would like to. While one of the major advantages of living in income sharing communities like Twin Oaks and Acorn is that you need not drive to work or to where you reside, i appear to have designed my life to miss out on this benefit.
No one is to blame for this other than me. I love to travel. I often take on tasks that are at great distances away and i am interested in projects which are not happening in central Virginia, where i nominally live. While i would certainly prefer to travel in the high functioning rail systems like Germany or the Netherlands have, in absence of these i am not willing to give up my mobility to be orthodox.
Because i am driving more, i observe the behavior of GPS systems more, especially when i make mistakes. When i miss a turn, the GPS starts rerouting the trip, and while it is figuring this out it leaves the old estimated time of arrival up until it has a new one. i watch to see how much time i have lost because i missed my turn and surprisingly often it is just a couple of minutes different in arrival time estimates. It turns out quite often mistakes are cheap.
So i am attempting to train my brain to do what the GPS does, and effortlessly forgive the mistake, figure out the new path and not stress over it. Instead just pay attention to the new directions and you will get there at basically the original time.
Imagine a world where we have learned this type of emotionally nimble behavior which is effortlessly displayed by the GPS. What if we let go of this (often optional) guilt and shame? What if (after having learned what might be useful from our mistakes) we moved on without harping on errors or beating ourselves up wishing we had done something different?
I am guessing all kinds of good would come from it.
Brittany ran to me as i was walking through the Ash Street gardens of the Baltimore Free Farm. She was clearly excited to see me.
“I am so glad there is an old person here now!” was the first thing she said to me
I cracked up laughing. She explained that the party was full of 20 somethings and she thought my experience would be a grounding effect. Most people don’t find me grounding, but i was still totally flattered.
Many folks say they are busy, but you make time for what is important to you. I really wanted to go to StrangeFolx, the Baltimore Free Farms anniversary celebration. I wanted to go because i had missed the protests that BFF had played an amazing supportive role in. I wanted to go because i am regularly impressed with daring, tenacity and street smarts of these punks. I wanted to go, because i wanted a big, political party that someone else had organized.
On the way to the event i stopped at a roadside stand and got a flat of strawberries. I was handing them out to the perhaps 100 people who were already at this event by 1 PM. I walked by Billy who was pumping out pizzas.
As i approached the oven, there was a metal stake sticking up in the middle of the steps which dozens of people would soon be walking. “Fix that!” i barked at Billy pointing to the offending stake, in the way busy organizers sometimes dispense with pleasantries. A nearby anarchist reminded me, “You could fix it.” Billy soon put a purple cup over the stake and pronounced it fixed. Safety isn’t first with this crowd, otherwise they would not be rioting with the police.
Billy suggested that i change my thinking about pizza. Moving away from the idea that it would be a point in time in which one might have pizza, to more of a continuum or infinite span of pizza. And he made quite good on his promise to deliver unending pizza. Recently toughened up by the tremendous cooking effort done to support protesters of police violence in Baltimore, the Free Farm kids prepped for this 8 hour long anniversary party of a few hundred people. GPaul asked for a vegan pizza, and in moments it was there. The advantage of these real pizza ovens is they can cook a full pizza in just a couple of minutes.
When Billy finally took a break he greeted me warmly and gave me an illegal piece of riot swag. I was touched and i looked at him curiously. “We could not have done it without your cooks. It was amazing to have all this help and we desperately needed it.” When Baltimore exploded, Billy called me. He asked me to put out the call to Action: Baltimore needs cooks. So i blogged about it, copied it to few facebook pages and crossed my fingers. I got great reaction, with cooks responding to the blog post wanting to help. Many had minor logistical problems (like little money and no car). I cobbled together ride shares and other minor logistics, but folk were resourceful and wanted to get to Baltimore. In the end about a dozen cooks ended up volunteering at BFF. And i felt some pride around networking effectively.
But as though my ego were on some type of zen roller coaster, shortly after this i got schooled by Brittany on how unworkable my clever plans were to try to build coalitions with people of color (POC) activists. She was clear and firm in telling me that the internship scheme i was proposing would not fly culturally.
Instead Brittany and Billy agreed that the best thing for white allies to do these days is be consistent in providing the type of food services for protesters that BFF and Food Not Bombs have been providing. And be patient.
I read about reactors everyday. It is a trillion dollar industry worldwide, with over 30 countries with operating reactors. The stories are often contradictory and there is incredible national and international politics at play. (For example, Russian incursions into the Ukraine have damaged its nuclear export business because it depends on component vendors from countries which now have trade embargoes up against it).
One of the most important nuclear countries in the world is tiny Finland. In 2003, Finland became the first country in Europe in 15 years to order a new reactor. They ordered a French reactor, the first European Pressurized Reactor (or EPR) from Areva. This was supposed to be a model for new nuclear construction worldwide and because they were taking a chance with an untried technology, they negotiated a fixed price for the reactor and pre-sold the electricity based on this fix price.
It was supposed to cost 3 billion Euros. It was supposed to be completed in 2009. Originally, nuclear giant Siemens joined Areva in the contract to build this reactor, but the project went so badly in 2009 they dropped out. Now it is at least 9 years late in completion and it will be over 8.5 billion Euros, almost 300% over budget. Even with this project getting further delayed, ambitious nuclear Finland decided in 2010 to start the process for the construction of a 6th and 7th reactors. The Finnish government had given the nuclear utility TVP until end of June to finalize its building permit request.
This week TVO, the Finnish nuclear utility with the option to build these new reactors, scrapped their plans. This little reported story is actually very bad news for the global nuclear industry. Finland is a rich, technologically advanced country and it leaving the fold of countries which might build new reactors is another nail in the coffin of this dangerous industry.
The official reason for scrapping these proposed new reactors is that they have no confidence in the completion of the EPR which is under construction. Let’s hope the Brits who are thinking about building two of this design reactors are paying attention.
And if the facts don’t hit hard enough, perhaps this powerful subtitled Japanese video will.
My first job out of college was with Standard Oil of Ohio (aka Sohio), which was basically a subdivision of the multinational then called British Petroleum. It was interesting work. I got to crash the world’s fastest super computer at one point. I visited briefly the single building city which operated the Prudhoe Bay and housed 2000 staff (in many ways like the communes, with free libraries and cafeterias and shared vehicle fleets. But in other ways completely not – being fiercely hierarchical, institutionally sexist and industrial eco-terrorists).
My boss was a rising star. He deftly took on any corporate functions which needed attention. He started a general service manager with a dozen employees and became the director of engineering with almost 100 staff. And as he rose in the company hierarchy i got to meet Sohio’s corporate overlords, the top guys (and there were basically only men managing the oil company) from BP.
One day I met one of these top guys. He was a vice president. He was charming, he was looking for new recruits for the office in London that does support for the companies top management. We had a chat about his work and he explained it to me this way:
Our job is to come up with a good idea every day. We do analysis, look at trends, review critiques by others and commission our own. We have incredible computer resources, experts on call and real budgets. And some fraction of these good ideas need to be good enough so that the company actually decides to manifest them.
This was my dream job at the time. Working with smart people, having a mandate to think big and outside the box and do it everyday sounded like heaven. Especially if there are resources to be able to push good ideas forward. This seemed like a powerful position to be in.
Looking back i was fantastically naive about the possible influence i might have in this circumstance. And even if i had gotten the job, it would have been tremendous pressure to keep up with the expectations of the senior managers, who i am sure are largely prima donnas. But the larger problem is that when your driving motivation is greed, your great ideas are steering you the wrong way.
It was Prague in 1991. The debate about the Soviet designed and partially built Temelin reactors being completed by Western firms was in full debate in the Czech Republic.
The representatives from the power utility were debating my young boss, Honza Beranek. It was a table full of true believers. The technocrats were convinced they were right and Honza knew better.
There were over 200 people in the room including half a dozen English speakers. The government thought this was sufficiently important to pay for simultaneous translation into English for the event. And the translator was good. Very good.
As the debate went on, the moderator lost control of the speakers (this happens surprisingly often in the East) and our translator tried valiantly to keep up. He donned different voices for the different speakers so he did not have to keep telling you which one he was becoming and losing time by identifying the transition.
Then on stage, all hell broke out. Honza was arguing with the PR guy from the reactor, and they were both really going at it. Increasingly they did not let the other finish their comment and interrupted them. In response the translator spoke faster and switched voices more.
Finally, the moderator stopped the discussion. At this point the half dozen people who had listened to this amazing translator broke out in applause. It was one of the most amazing linguistic fetes any of us had ever experienced. Of course the rest of the audience was completely baffled, for they thought they had experienced everything and we were just getting poor translations.
NYC has changed me.
Two years ago, if i had walked out of the Richmond train station and seen three “traveler kids”, i would have headed the other way. But having spent time doing support work for travelers in Tompkins Square Park has shifted my perception of this fringe group that i had not been connected to before.
I walked out of the train from Baltimore and saw these three, i had a bit of time to wait and decided that this could be fun. I got a cheap pizza and approached my new friends. They were welcoming. I sat with them where they had found an open wall socket to charge their phones with.
They introduced themselves to me as: Barefoot – who claimed she did not own a pair of shoes. One Eye – who had a fine line tattoo pattern on the check of side of his face where he had lost an eye to a fight or an accident. Tex – who said he was from Texas. After i had been there for half an hour and they decided that i was at least interesting and perhaps okay, Tex told me “You should call me ‘Too Dim‘. My friends call me Too Dim, not Tex.”
The conversation rambled. They offered me beer and cigarettes. They played an animated guitar and sang in a raspy voices. They were generous, friendly and welcoming. All the traveler kids i have run across have been.
They train hopped from Jacksonville FL to Washington DC and discovered what many of us had experienced there. Washington is tough for outsiders with no friends in the town. They tried to talk to people, but no one had time for them. They played guitar and sang, but no one was generous. They tried lots of different types of places and nothing improved things. So they left.
They were hoping Richmond is better. I don’t know, but something makes me think it will be.
At one point Barefoot complimented my shirt. I asked her if she would wear it. She said she certainly would, then i offered to give it to her, but she would not take it as a straight gift, she wanted to trade – which is how i got the stylish skull tank top i am donning in the picture below.
After an hour or so of hanging out, i decided i need to be moving on. They were lovely folks, dressed in tattered clothes. I am thankful my previous prejudices are subsiding and i can connect with a greater array of people.
When i left, with no request on their part, i left a few bucks behind. One Eye called out after me, “You have restored my faith in humanity”. And strangely, i felt the same way.